The Films of 2020 (I’ve Seen So Far) Ranked

I admit, I’m way behind on my film watching for 2020. I’ve only seen 14 films from 2020 by the middle of October. For me, that is absolutely pathetic. I need to get that number up. But in the meantime, I think it’s important for me to look back on this years films, and reassess my thoughts as of right now.

Let’s start at the bottom, and work our way up.

14. The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson

I don’t even want to give this the satisfaction of calling this “the worst movie of 2020,” because that would imply that this travesty is even a movie. This is a gravely offensive, and horrifically awful… thing, that is so tone-deaf and tasteless, that you have to wonder how anyone on set thought this was a good idea. They could not have been more disrespectful to both Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman if they had tried, especially as it recreates the graphic murders in a manner so tasteless and disgusting that it actually made me sick to my stomach. Oh and this has so little substance that the director has to resort to using archival footage to stretch this paper-thin abomination to feature length runtime. This can burn in a fire.

13. The Grudge

This movie can only be enjoyed as a comedy, because this is an objectively awful film. This film’s composition is so sloppy that it left me feeling confused as I struggled to follow the insanely over-convoluted story. To put it bluntly, the pacing in this film is an absolute nightmare. The film’s attempts at frights are stupid jump scares you can see coming a mile away, and the characters are non-entities. Despite the fact that this was the first film released this decade, it’s going to be quickly forgotten about, and rightfully so.

12. Dolittle

This easily takes the cake for the most confused and lost film of the year. This film genuinely seems like it has no idea if this wants to be an adventure film, or a broad comedy, and thus fails at both. Robert Downey Jr. in particular seems completely lost, as he mumbles and grumbles his way through a role in which half of his dialogue is animal noises, and the other half was recorded in post. It feels as if there are entire scenes missing, like they forgot to film them, as some last-minute narration desperately tries to fill in the gaps. It honestly feels like nobody was in charge of trying to reel this monstrosity in, and as a result, the entire product just clashes together, culminating in an unforgettable climax where the titular character is farted on by a dragon as he attempts to retrieve CGI bagpipes from inside her rectum. This is peak cinema.

11. Fantasy Island

Made by the same people that made “Truth or Dare,” and while this film is a slight improvement on that film, it is far less hilarious. There are some good ideas in here, and some scenes are even kind of okay-ish. But for a horror film, isn’t even the least bit scary or frightening, the film’s plot twist is completely nonsensical, and the film’s tonal inconstancies are jarring to say the least.

10. The Call of the Wild

Chris Sanders (of “Lilo & Stitch” and “How to Train Your Dragon” fame) tries his hand at live action directing in this misguided adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel. His inexperience at directing live action really shows as his direction feels like a live-action cartoon, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Even worse is the decision to make all the animals, including the main dog, CGI, and not very good CGI either. The dog and the other animals never look like they’re really there interacting in the scene with the humans, which does nothing but create a constant distraction that severely hurts the film. That being said, some of the backgrounds look really nice and provide a good atmosphere of nature, Harrison Ford (for as little we see of him) is actually pretty good, and there are some thrilling action scenes, so it’s not a total waste of time; but it’s not really a good film.

9. The Hunt

A surprisingly biteless political satire that will make you wonder why this film even caused such an outcry in the first place. The film mostly shies away from divisive political topics, and as such, comes across feeling like it’s terrified to grapple with either side; not exactly the makings of a great political satire. The action’s alright (although not as gory as I was expecting), Betty Gilpin’s pretty good in the lead role, and it’s a breezy, relatively painless watch, but I was expecting a film far more brazen than this.

8. I Still Believe

This true story about Christian songwriter Jeremy Camp and his late wife’s battle with cancer is a competent if unremarkable faith-based film. This film does attempt to grapple with genuine issues and questions that Christians and others have pondered for millennia, mainly why a loving God would allow his followers to suffer greatly. The film doesn’t really delve too deep into the issue, but it at the very least raises them, which is a step up from other Christian films I’ve seen. It does a great deal to capture the painful emotions a couple going through this terrible ordeal would be feeling. The performances are solid, if unremarkable, the chemistry between the two leads is really great and believable, and some of imagery is actually quite stark and evocative. Had the film taken more story risks, and if they’d fixed the pacing this could’ve been great. As-is, it’s just fine, but it likely won’t compel many non-Christians to tune in.

7. Sonic the Hedgehog

The filmmakers of this film deserve a lot of credit for going back and fixing the absolutely dreadful initial design for Sonic the Hedgehog. And heck, the movie itself actually isn’t all that bad. Sure it’s a little bit cliché and derivative, this is a mostly entertaining buddy road trip comedy. The jokes are funny, the action’s pretty good, Jim Carrey is a surprisingly great Dr. Eggman, and the chemistry between the characters is solid. Not perfect, but I would’ve loved this as a kid, and it’s a decent, solid comedy adventure as an adult.

6. Onward

Not one of Pixar’s better entries, but a solid outing nonetheless. The world building doesn’t really feel as rich as it should, but there are some creative ideas in here and the film does take advantage of its setting, at least a little. The voice acting from Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is really good, a lot of the jokes land, and the excellent ending for this film elevates it quite a bit. The overall product isn’t great, but it’s an enjoyable little ride.

5. Underwater

Is this an “Alien” imitation? Sure. But it’s a really solid one. It’s an old-fashioned monster movie, with good performances and good production values. It redefines nothing and the characters are pretty bland, but for what it is, and what it sets out to do, this is actually a pretty darn good film, and an entertaining time.

4. The Personal History of David Copperfield

Armando Iannucci sought to take the gargantuan Dickens novel “David Copperfield” and simplify it to a 2 hour film. He’s mostly successful, despite it’s rough pacing problems. The acting is great from the ensemble, there are lots of genuinely hilarious moments, a light sprinkling of metacommentary (although not done as effectively as Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”) and a playful, dream-like, fantastical tone. The pacing is easily the film’s biggest problem as it jumps from one set piece to another while hardly giving the audience any room to breathe, and in its worst moments coming across like a CliffsNotes of the original novel. This is an entertaining, playful comedy, but that one key issue holds it back from true greatness.

3. Tenet

A film for anyone who thought Nolan’s previous films were too simple and straightforward. There are some great ideas here, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are fantastic, the action is genuinely spectacular and creative, and the editing (as always with Nolan’s films) is immaculate. That being said, this is Nolan’s most ambitious film to date, which is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. This film is exceptionally confusing, and I’m not entirely convinced that everything makes sense. They probably could’ve benefited from reeling Nolan in a hair. And yet, despite it’s confusing story, I was constantly riveted by what I was seeing on screen, a testament to Nolan’s talent as a filmmaking. It’ll probably take a few more rewatches for me to wrap my head around this, but this is definitely good enough to check out at least once.

2. Emma.

Just simply delightful and charming. This is the best adaptation of “Emma” I’ve seen yet. It’s beautifully shot, the acting is fantastic, especially from Anya Taylor-Joy, and it largely stays true to Austen’s original text, while very, very subtly modernizing it. All in all, this is just a nice, comforting little film.

1. The Invisible Man

Leigh Whannell takes a classic story and completely reenergizes and reinvigorates it by taking a scenario that’s already real to so many people; domestic abuse; and cranking the fear and paranoia up to eleven. The result is a terrifying, chilling horror film that is able to make things like simple camera pans absolutely spine tingling. Elisabeth Moss does excellent work, the directing by Whannell is outstanding, and the horror atmosphere is rich. A film that can be enjoyed both as a subtextual allegory about gaslighting in abusive relationships, and as a straightforward horror film, “The Invisible Man” easily outshines the rest of the 2020 films so far by a pretty significant margin.

“Caligula” (1979)

Roger Ebert infamously called this film “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash.” And honestly that’s a pretty apt description. There is nothing of value to be gained in this inexcusable pile of crap. The plot is borderline incomprehensible. The film sets are a joke. And it’s slow and tedious. The pacing in this film is so bad, this movie felt like it was 3 hours long (and I was watching the much shorter “R” rated cut). I wanted a film that explored who Caligula was, maybe explore the psyche of such an interesting historical figure. Instead we got a high-budget porno with zero intrigue, and no interest in understanding the historical background or figures. There is nothing redeemable here.

Rating: 0/5

“Aladdin” (2019)

Aladdin was one of the few Disney Live Action Remakes that I felt had potential. But unfortunately, none of that comes through in this version. It very rarely feels like the filmmakers are doing anything but going through the motions. One of the problems is that by sticking so close to the source material, it’s begging for people to draw comparisons to the original film, and every time it tries to copy the cartoon’s high energy feel, it feels comparatively lethargic. And most of the changes that they do make are either superficial changes that actually change nothing at all, or changes that actually make the story weaker. In short, this film offers no actual reason for why this one should be watched instead of the original, as it manages to convey so much less, with a longer runtime. That being said, some of the visuals are kind of impressive, and most of the actors are passable replacements (although Marwan Kenzari is horrifically miscast as Jafar) and the film is, at the very least, watchable enough. But worst of all, it breaks the cardinal sin of remakes; it assumes that you’ve already seen the original film. It’s nothing more than a soulless husk of the original, with financial incentive being the only reason for its existence.

Rating: 2/5

“The Sisters Brothers” (2018)

A great Western, and one of last year’s most overlooked movies. All of the performances were absolutely excellent, with John C. Reilly proving once again that when put in a low-budget, non-mainstream drama, he is quite the talented actor. This is a surprisingly dark and more realistic take on the Western genre than I was expecting; it largely does away with typical Western clichés, and instead tells a rather dark and subdued drama, but without feeling like it’s becoming overly grim, unpleasant or forced. The relationships that form or grow between the characters really help sell the film; the conversations the characters have, for the most part, feel like real conversations, and the film is never boring. The pacing maybe could’ve been tightened a touch, but otherwise, this is a great film, and one that I can’t wait to see again.

Rating: 4.5/5

“Russian Ark” (2002)

This is a mesmerizing film experience, that absolutely demands to be seen for fans of cinema. So much care and effort was clearly put into this. The film does primarily feels like it was just an excuse to make a film that consisted solely of one long continuous camera shot, but because of the large amount of actors, all the moving parts involved, its grand scale, and its surprising levels of ambition, it manages to both feel very impressive from a technical standpoint, as well as flow together so naturally and beautifully. The film has a definite dreamlike mood to it, and it captures that tone very well. I personally feel like that backstory of the unseen narrator maybe, possibly having been injured in some kind of accident was completely unnecessary. And the film will probably mean a lot more to someone who has a deep understanding of Russian history. But it’s still an entertaining and well-made film, that deserves to be seen based solely on its technical accomplishments alone.

Rating: 4/5

“Capernaum” (2018)

An instance where a film thinks it’s more insightful than it actually is. Most of the film is just boring, uninteresting scenes, that ultimately amount to very little or even to nothing at all. The characterization is very skimp, and it’s very emotionally manipulative, desperately trying to make you cry, but without feeling earned. The film’s direction is competent, but very standard, and the performances are alright, but nothing great. There are so many other better films that deal with similar concepts of following young kids being forced to deal with hellhole environments, like The Florida Project, Lion, and Moolaadé. The idea of a kid suing his parents for bringing him into this world is interesting, but it barely factors into the narrative, instead primarily saving it for the film’s final 10-15 minutes, but by that time it’s too little too late. It’s not awful, but it’s nowhere near good enough to warrant the surprising amount of praise it’s received. It’s tearjerker porn that insists that’s sad and meaningful, instead of actually being sad and meaningful. Also, the film’s ending has a definite pro-eugenics subtext. Make of that what you will.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Ready or Not” (2019)

Ready or Not is a twisted fun ride. Samara Weaving is a great and compelling lead, as she hits every mark that she should, and her character is well developed gradually. The film is well shot, the production design is fantastic, and the film hits exactly the tone that it should. There are lots of genuinely funny moments of wicked dark comedy; I really dug this film’s sick sense of humor. Also, it was refreshing to see a film where both the heroes and the villains in a horror film act reasonably intelligent. The first two acts are fantastic and showcase the film at its absolute best. Unfortunately, the film makes some story mistakes in the third act that take it down a peg from the genius it could’ve been. The motivational shift in one of the characters is too jarring and isn’t set up properly. The film does a good initial job at setting up the nuance of the film’s antagonists, which the third act completely removes. The film also goes nowhere with the initial subtext about the conflict of nature vs. nurture. And finally, I kind of wish the film’s big reveal was different than what it ended up being, (even if it admittedly does lead to some genuinely hilarious moments regardless). Still, the semi-lackluster third act doesn’t screw up enough to ruin the film. It’s still an entertaining, funny horror comedy, one that could’ve been genuinely fantastic, instead of just great.

Rating: 4/5

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019)

I’m honestly surprised that it took the Fast & Furious franchise this long to do some kind of spin-off. Getting dangerously close to Sci-Fi/Superhero territory with this franchise’s first cybernetic supervillain (played very well by Idris Elba), this film makes it very clear from the get-go that it’s not intended to be taken too seriously. As a conduit in order to see some creative over-the-top action, this film more than gets the job done. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham both have great chemistry, and Vanessa Kirby does great work, and also has the opportunity to show that she too is capable to being a compelling action lead. It’s exciting, it’s funny, and it’s even subtly subversive, which more than makes up for some of it’s weird pacing issues early on. Whether you’re a long-time fan of this franchise, or a newcomer who’s never seen a Fast & Furious film before, this brainless, testosterone-laced, entertaining thrill ride is extremely entertaining and enjoyable.

Rating: 4/5

“Dumbo” (2019)

I was saying before that I wish more “Disney Live Action Remakes,” would take more chances and tell a different story than the original version. And Dumbo at least attempts it, but it doesn’t quite work. I mean, given how incredibly short and minimalistic the original film is, this film basically had no other choice but to tell a different story than the original. But the story they tell is a very generic and uninspired one; it’s basically yet another kid’s film about how the bigger, more elaborate, and more corporate circus is so much more artificial and superficial than the humbler, lower-class circus (quite ironic when you consider this film was made by one of the biggest entertainment corporations on the planet). We’ve seen this before and know exactly where it’s heading. Most of the human characters are boring (Eva Green as Colette is the only exception), the story is predictable, and some of the references to the original film (Pink Elephants, anyone?) feel so forced. There are a few solid moments, and some of the visual animation is gorgeous to look at (Dumbo’s ears in particular look extremely well textured and real-looking). But I still don’t know why this movie was made, even from a business perspective. I’ll give it a little bit of credit for at least attempting something different than the original film, but if this plot was the best they could come up with, they shouldn’t have even tried.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Crawl” (2019)

This film is proof that you can still make an entertaining, old-fashioned Jaws-esque creature feature; you just need to have someone behind the camera who actually knows what they’re doing. Directed by Alexandre Aja, who also directed the cheesy, gloriously over-the-top Piranha 3D, he definitely seems to have an understanding of how to wring genuine tension out of a film like this, namely by filling the cast with sympathetic characters, and striking the perfect balance of not taking itself too seriously, but also grounding the film. It also helps that he knows how to handle an effective jump scare. The film also manages to work in some clever subversion with the typical “creature horror” conventions, making the film feel a little bit more fresh than it had any right to be. Does it have problems? Yes. The CG on the alligators usually doesn’t look very convincing, the characters sometimes act stupidly to artificially raise the tension, and the film sometimes forgets about the extent of how bad character’s injuries are. But overall, this is a quick, fast-paced, entertaining film, that will almost assuredly please any creature feature fan.

Rating: 4/5